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Why is LTAD Not Universally Embraced?

Evidence is clear that youth that participate in a variety of sports have lower injury rates, more enjoyment, and perform better.


Sports are often the hook that excites kids to be physically active. If they receive developmentally-appropriate, fun activities that involve them in the process, they are very likely to continue to be physically active. So, why isn’t every child involved in youth sports?

The concept of long-term athletic development (LTAD) arose from the need to provide our kids a better opportunity to learn the sport skills and life skills to become productive members of sports teams and (in adulthood) work teams. Due to lack of coaching education requirements at all levels of youth sport, not every coach understands the concepts of positive youth development, pediatric exercise science, and pedagogy necessary to make youth sports a positive experience for every child. It is no wonder, therefore that nearly 70% of youth drop out of youth sport by age 13.

The phrase long-term athletic development still confuses coaches, athletes, parents, and even professionals in the field! Each component of the term can be easily misinterpreted. Long-term should denote the entirety of childhood and adolescence, not this week or this season. The term athletic should produce images of each child performing to the best of his/her abilities within their personal developmental phase, not compared to all other kids or at only one point in time. Development should focus on the holistic growth and potential of every participant’s physical, social, and psychological well-being, not just their physical performance in a specific sport or contest.

To address the need for widespread adoption of LTAD concepts, two harmonious models have been developed. One model, the Composite Youth Development Model integrates the physical and psychosocial needs of youth from the strength and conditioning context. The other, the American Development Model highlights the principles and stages of youth development through sport. Together, the two models create a holistic experience for all kids to successfully participate in sport and strength and conditioning programs.

Together, we can fill the talent pool with kids who love sports and physical activity, coaches that understand how to positively engage kids to be lifelong movers, parents who rally behind their kids’ positive youth development, and we might even educate the professional naysayers who fail to recognize the value of sports and strength and conditioning for all kids.

The Impending Crisis in Youth Sports

My most recent article for Breaking Muscle talks about what many of us now know— unless we do something soon to fix youth sports, the downward spiral will continue. The downward spiral includes a too early focus on sports specialization, too much pressure on kids to win at all cost, and underdevelopment of athleticism, all of which disenfranchise too many kids from not only sports but from meaningful physical activity across the life span.

What Sports Experience Should We Provide?

All of the ingredients necessary to Fill the Talent Pool already exist! We know, as the figure below illustrates, that all positive youth development programs should include positive physical, social, emotional, and cognitive components, which are often referred to as developmental assets.  The physical assets that helps kids improve all physical capacities have not been adequately developed in most sports programs.


It is the role of all youth sports parents, coaches, teachers, scientists, officials, and participants to take what we know about positive youth development and apply it to youth sports. To do that we must

  • give kids developmentally-appropriate instruction in motor skill acquisition
  • include proper strength and conditioning
  • make it fun
  • ask the kids for their input
  • establish a youth sports model that includes all developmental assets, with emphasis on the elementary years

The importance of  developing a long-term model that includes integration of skills across all sport platforms is crucial. Think of it like a terrific combination of physical education, sports, and play. Let’s give kids every opportunity to learn about movement, sports, and the social, cognitive, and emotional benefits that follow (if we purposefully include them in our programming). Only then can we truly Fill the Talent Pool.

Fill the Talent Pool

By: Rick Howard

The tag line for my blog is “Fill the Talent Pool.” What can you do to be sure that we are providing every youngster the opportunity to participate in healthy-habit developing sports and activity? Consider the three key words in Fill the Talent Pool:

  1. Fill: this implies that we have not yet reached our peak level, which we have not
  2. Talent: this does not necessarily mean elite talent, but maximizing each child’s ability
  3. Pool: the pool is every child having the opportunity to enjoy, participate, and reach their potential

Our current system, unfortunately, suffers from the following:

  1. Diluting the talent pool: by encouraging only a select few to enjoy this opportunity, through clubs, select teams, and other forms of early specialization, we end up leaving many aspiring athletes behind, burning out the early maturers so that they no longer want to play and perhaps not the select few who can take it to the next level,
  2. Having a pool with the wrong notion of talent: by trying to identify talent too early, overplaying youth that display early talent, and ignoring best practices of developing talent through a variety of sport and activity experiences, we exploit talent too early and neglect to nurture talent development throughout childhood
  3. Not having the right people in place to fill the pool: many well-intentioned parents and other volunteers step up to help kids get the experience of sportsmanship, camaraderie, winning and losing, and being part of something bigger than they.

So, you can play a huge role to Fill the Talent Pool!

  1. Fill your kids with the passion to be active and to try a variety of sports and activities
  2. Let kids know their Talent is in their continued effort and improvement
  3. Encourage all kids to get in the Pool and be the best they can be

Keep reading this blog to learn the latest in youth sports, youth fitness, and youth coaching so we can all work together to Fill the Talent Pool.



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